Recently, I was asked to recount a favorite childhood memory or tradition. I sat perplexed for a minute as I thought. I could have told about the Florida snow when I was still a preschooler or my first day in school. The Christmas I got a bicycle or the many Christmas trees I helped decorate were both worthy of mention, but none of these things seemed to capture the idea of favorite.
My memory stretched over years of time and events and landed on the rhythm of childhood. When I was a child, there was a rhythm to each season and each year. It seemed like life flowed through the seasons with routines that anchored us in family and faith.
So, I remembered planting potatoes on Valentine’s Day and putting the rest of the garden seeds in the ground on Good Friday. Easter was celebrated with a church-wide egg hunt on Saturday and sunrise services on Sunday. White shoes and a new outfit were cherished items for the special day of resurrection.
We could not go barefooted or swimming until May, even though we lived in Florida. June brought the end of the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. Long summer days meandered through afternoon rain showers and hot evenings. We were outside early and late. The middle of the day often found us shelling peas or peeling some type of fruit for canning. July 4th was celebrated with a family picnic and often involved fishing and swimming. Play was our pastime, and work was a family affair. August brought Dog Days with plenty of mosquitoes and sauna-like temperatures as we wound down our summer for school to start the day after Labor Day.
Fall, while not filled with highly colored leaves in our tropical climate, was filled with new school friends, football games, and the county fair. We attended parades after school and relished the cooling weather. Thanksgiving was celebrated with family. Mom was up cooking before daylight – dressing and ham, greens and peas, sweet potatoes and biscuits, and apple, pumpkin, and sweet potato pies for dessert. We used our best dishes and thanked God for our blessings.
December days found us anticipating the coming Christmas holiday, but we didn’t decorate until we got out of school for Christmas break. Choosing and cutting down the tree was a family event. Each child was given ten dollars to buy gifts for the other family members. We had to really budget and plan to get six gifts with ten dollars, but it was an adventure for us. We learned to spend wisely and to think of others. As we began earning money, we used our own funds to buy the gifts, and we waited anxiously to see the surprise on each others’ faces as those gifts were opened.
Christmas wasn’t focused on decorations and gifts, however. We knew that we celebrated because Jesus had come to Earth to save us. My mom’s most treasured decoration was the Nativity scene that she lovingly crafted each year, and church activities were paramount in our December calendar. We attended the Sunday School party, where each person received a bag with fruit, a candy bar, and hard candy in it. Throughout the month we practiced for the Christmas musical, which was performed on Christmas Eve for the entire church.
Christmas Day was quiet, as we enjoyed gifts and treats and family.
After Christmas, the tree and decorations came down before New Year’s Day, which was celebrated with black-eyed peas flavored with hog jowl, rice, and stewed tomatoes. This was better known as Hoppin’ John. School started back the next day, and our days continued in the routines of life. Weeks flowed, culminated by Sunday celebrations at church and punctuated by everyday responsibilities that we shared.
Rhythms meant that each season was enjoyed and celebrated before it passed. They didn’t overlap. In between times left plenty of room for outside play, chores, church, and family life.
There was a steadiness to the days and weeks and months that allowed for quiet time and activity, togetherness and solitude, growth and rest. It was a good way to grow up.
Traditions and schedules changed as my life merged with new family in marriage, but we attempted to keep some of the routines. We made decisions on priorities and prayed that our children would feel the security of a stable family, regardless of what was happening in the world.
I believe rhythms are important. They provide a foundation in music and in life, and in both it is easy to allow the tempo to increase and overwhelm the balance. The rhythm is not meant to constrain or limit; instead it enhances the ebb and flow of each day, settling our spirits.
God designed us for rhythm. He created the continuity of daytime and nighttime, springtime and harvest, seasons and years. He gave His people instructions for celebrations that brought them together and helped them remember their foundations.
He calls us to work, and He calls us to rest and be still.
Sometimes the rhythms get out of whack. Life happens. Illness, demands, conflict, change – all push us in different directions. We flounder, and sometimes we fall. In any great piece of music, rhythms change, and this is true in the symphony of life as well.
When this happens, we must stop and consider our Creator. He is the great Conductor, and He alone can direct us back into a beautiful rhythm that sustains and strengthens.